2015: The Year of People Who Matter

I am truly blessed, and I don’t know if I spend enough time reflecting on that and taking it in. It is so easy to get bogged down by frustration and the general irritation that comes with dealing with life’s daily hassles. Remind me to tell you sometime about that time my jeans didn’t fit quite right and it totally ruined my day. Oh wait—that kind of crap happens all the time.

The good news is that when I actually allow myself some space to look at the big stuff and brush the small stuff aside, there are some cool things happening. Work is good, health is good, and I’ve reconnected with some of the activities I love (snowboarding, dancing, music, etc.). That’s all wonderful, and I’m thankful for all of it, especially the physical activities, since there was a time when I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do any of it again.

I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions per se, but I do like to set goals for the coming year. That’s always been a fun exercise, especially when I look back on them and find out that I’ve either completely changed my mind or that I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. It’s generally a bit of a mix. So this year, of course I have some goals. Most of them are work-related. I’ll write them down and hopefully have a successful year.

That’s not the big story, though. The big story in my life right now is the people who are in it.

I am notoriously naïve when it comes to people and first impressions. I am quick to dismiss red flags and equally quick to give benefit of the doubt or explain something away. I am deeply flawed, and I understand that everyone else is too, so I try not to be a jerk. Unfortunately, my benefit-of-the-doubt giving often leads me directly into chaos. I have found myself right in the eye of one shit-tornado too many, and I’ve become much more discerning about who I choose to spend time with.

I’ve met a few new(ish) people recently who have the potential to be wonderful mentors and influences. I’ve also reevaluated some old relationships and allowed a select few people back into my life. Most surprisingly to me, I’ve taken stock of the people who have stayed. People who have been by my side for multiple years. In the past, I had a difficult time maintaining friendships across life phases. High school friends stayed in high school. Same with college friends. Same with many of my co-worker friends after any or all of us changed jobs.

Either I’m growing up and learning to be a better friend, or I’ve actually cracked the code for finding People Who Matter, because there are many more on the “people who have stayed” list than ever before. Some of them have been around for five or six years now. It’s crazy to me, but I’m so happy and so lucky.

So, to the people of 2015, I salute you:

Chris and Chris—You’re really the only ones left from my distant past, and you understand things about me that are impossible to explain. Here’s to hopefully many more years of bonding over music, travel, and relentless passion for life.

Jaime—The water has been particularly rough under our bridge, but the past year has shown me how strong the bridge actually is. I have nothing but love. You help me to be fearless.

Robb and Laura—I used to think of both of you as rocks, but as the years go by, I realize that you’re more like concrete posts that go deep into the Earth. You guys saved my life once upon a time, and I hope that someday I can come remotely close to returning the favor.

Luke—You save my life every single day. Thank you for loving me even when you hate me, and thank you for making so much of my current success possible. Love doesn’t even quite cover it.

Rodney (and the supporting cast of Dawn and Fallon)—I can’t imagine someone I’d rather hang out with every day. We are living the dream, and it’s only just begun. Pruitt ain’t got nothin’ on us.

Grant—You’re new, but special. You’re helping me fix something that I thought was permanently broken. If you are able to turn music into a light in my soul instead of the gaping wound it had become, I’ll be forever grateful—even if your arc in my life is short.

I know this post is all just a bunch of sappy-sauce, but I believe strongly that there is not enough love in this world. If you feel it, you should say it.

So, go spread some goodness. And have an incredible journey across the 2014 finish line.

No Need to Be Discouraged

I read a piece yesterday by an aspiring writer that kind of bummed me out. She was clearly having a moment (we all have them) during which she was wondering if writing was really her calling and if it was something she was ultimately cut out for. She’d just had a brush with massive success (an article that went viral), but still felt empty. Still felt like she hadn’t truly made it.

And why not? Because offers from agents/publishers hadn’t rolled in. Because no one had seen her piece and offered her a job.

I can understand. In the writing world, there is a large amount of pressure to not only get attention, but to get the right kind of attention. Attention from the public is one thing (as you would get from a viral blog or article), but attention from someone in The Industry—well that shows that you’re a “real” writer. I think any of us who plunk words on a page for a living or even as a hobby have fallen victim to that kind of pressure at one time or another. In fact, I know some writers who truly believe it.

I am of the opinion that all of it is hogwash. Bullshit, even. I take this strong, oppositional stance not because I’m thumbing my nose at The Industry or anything like that, but rather because I think there are many diverse paths to success. I think that “success” as a concept can only be defined by the individual, and sometimes, the most direct path to it is by revamping the idea of what “it” even is. In order to get what you really want, you must first figure out what it really is that you want.

For example: do you want to be a writer? Do you write? Then there you go. You’re a writer.

It’s easy to get hung up on the publishing industry and what it means to share your work with the public. The exciting thing about being alive right now is that everything has changed over the last decade. Traditional publishing is still a very cool thing, and securing a book deal is an outstanding accomplishment. That said, self-publishing is more popular than ever, and it is no longer the red-headed stepchild of the literary world. There are some phenomenal authors and writers who self-publish, and their reasons for choosing that route are varied.

The point at which the flock gets separated is at the exact point where the rubber meets the road. It all comes down to how badly you want what you want. Do you want to have a published book? You can do that. It is extremely hard work to generate a successful career out of self-publishing, but I know plenty of people who do it. The thing they all have in common? They write constantly, they are rarely deterred by setbacks, and they are always open to suggestions and feedback. None of the great self-published authors I know are shameless self-promoters. In fact, that very behavior is a bit of a turn-off. They let their writing and storytelling do the promotion for them. That’s not to say they are hermits who are hiding under rocks—they have websites and social media presence—but the “promotion” side of the business very much takes a backseat to the writing side.

Now, if what you really want is to be noticed by one of the Big Four or even by a prominent agent, then that is an entirely different game that I believe involves luck and impeccable timing. The only way to have a chance at winning that game is to put your work out there and send well-crafted queries to the people who are most likely to listen. Industry research and practice will absolutely help (as will an excellent manuscript), but sometimes even the best book just isn’t what The Industry is looking for right now. If rejection is too discouraging, then this path to success could be a rough one for you. Very few people hit it big right out of the gate. The ones who ultimately win out can probably show you an entire Home Depot Moving Box: Size Large full of rejection letters. It’s not personal—it’s business—and it’s part of the process.

So back to this writer who bummed me out. Her story made me sad because I know there are so many ways to have a personally and financially satisfying writing career. It’s incredibly hard work, and it involves a lot of scrapping and uncertainty. It requires audacity and humility at the same time. It involves writing, above all else, even when you are fairly certain no one is reading.

Dedication to any craft must be a labor of love. If writing is your thing and you truly love it, then do it as often as possible. Success is available for anyone who wants it and works for it, and the only way to reach it is to try, practice, trip, fall down, get back up, try, and practice some more.

Feeling discouraged? Drop me a line. We’re all in this together, and I’d love to help you get past whatever roadblock is holding you back.

Totally Fine, But For Real This Time

Shortly after I started this blog, which was sometime in 2012, I was knocked out of commission by a terrifying illness that left me paralyzed from the waist down. Over time, I slowly gained some strength back, and I learned to walk again. Still, I spent over a year with no diagnosis and no treatment other than copious amounts of rest (sitting on my butt) and exercising when I could (walking maybe to the end of the block on a good day). There are so many reasons for me to be bitter about the time I spent fighting with doctors and trying to plead my case that I was not simply suffering from spontaneous laziness or even mental illness. It was a frustrating time, but I tried really hard to keep my head up and not let the bitterness seep into my soul. Talk about an exhausting experience.

Fortunately, that time has come to an end.

If I’m being honest, it came to an end quite a while ago, but I’ve been hesitant to write about it for fear of jinxing myself. I’ve been sick with something chronic for most of my adult life, and I know the feeling of “relapse” all too well. I was worried that if I celebrated publicly, the Universe would promptly reward me with more crap.

I suppose that could still totally happen, but I’m going to celebrate anyway.

In September 2013, I finally received the correct diagnosis. My acute scary episode that landed me in the hospital in May 2012 was just the latest straw in a long-building haystack, and it was that last piece that pushed my body over the edge. The diagnosis I received a little over a year ago accounted for an entire decade of illness and weird symptoms. What was once thought to be Lyme Disease turned out to instead be Brucellosis (look it up), and that is why previous courses of antibiotics had been marginally helpful, but why I would still relapse like clockwork after a certain amount of time. Because it’s also virtually non-existent in the US, no one had tested me for it or even thought of it as a possibility.

Thank goodness for my small-town doctor who just couldn’t let this puzzle go unsolved.

Since I first got weirdly sick in 2005, I never thought I’d know the feeling of “normal.” Symptoms then persisted for so many years – I had just come to accept the fact that “healthy” was a relative term and that I would always have the monkey on my back. I can hardly believe it, but it has been over six months since my last round of treatment, and I am totally fine.

Let me define “totally fine.” I have absolutely zero symptoms. None. Not one. Even in my times of remission in the past, something has lingered. Now, nothing. I am totally fine.

I recently moved across the country. Totally fine.

I recently went on a hiking/camping trip. 5.8 miles carrying a 40lb pack. Totally fine.

I go out dancing at least once a week, sometimes more. Totally fine.

I say all of this not to brag or rub it in the face of anyone who is facing something chronic and debilitating. Believe me. I have spent so much time in that space – I would never dream of disrespecting anyone “fighting the good fight” as they say. I’m saying it because I’m grateful. I’m saying it because I’m excited about the things life may have in store for me after all (after thinking for so long that my life was more or less over).

More importantly, I’m saying it in case any of you out there are suffering without a diagnosis for something. In the worst moments of my illness, I was ready for anything. Cancer? Fine. MS? Fine. ALS? Fine. I no longer cared what it was – I just wanted to know. I got to the point where I could handle even the scariest of diagnoses, because at least I’d know what I was in store for, and at least I’d know what I was up against. The not knowing was the worst of all.

Actually, no. The worst of all was being told by medical professionals that I was making it up. That I was too weak. Too sensitive. “A pretty girl who was clearly starved for attention.” That I was someone who enjoyed being sick and was obviously looking for a break from working hard. After hearing enough of that crap, I actually started believing it. Every day became a test. I would say, “I’m going to try and walk a mile today just in case I’m making it up. If I’m just making it up, I’ll be able to walk a mile no problem.” Then, I’d find myself unable to get out of bed for a week because I had tried to push myself so hard. It was a cycle of mental torture.

For any of you who may be caught in a similar cycle – try like hell to hold onto what you know is true. Don’t let someone else’s insecurity about not having the answer affect your life or your wellbeing. Doctors will say crazy things. Well-meaning friends and family will say horribly mean and insensitive things because they just don’t know any better. You have to be your own best friend.

There is absolutely nothing heroic about what I went through. It was what it was and now it’s over. The heroic thing to do now is to grab life by the balls and make sure that I never, ever take anything for granted. I have seen what it looks like when the simplest of things are just snatched away in the blink of an eye.

So go have a good day, whatever that may mean for you and your current situation. Tomorrow could be bringing a whole bunch of weird with it, so enjoy what’s in front of you right now.

Now, please excuse me while I go dance in the rain.

Spine, Once Missing, Now Found

Man, I have a shit time standing up for myself. I had a bit of a spiritual awakening this weekend while on a retreat, and I heard one of the speakers say the following about something that happened to her:

“I had experientially located my spine.”

That’s more or less how I felt when I left there. I suddenly realized how much nonsense I’d been putting up with in my life, all for the sake of not ruffling feathers. After all, if I ruffle too many of your feathers, you may not like me, and that is intolerable. Spare me all the obviously logical comments about “not everyone will like you.” I know this. I’ve always known this. That doesn’t make the reality of not being liked any less painful. 

It probably sounds really dramatic. Images are coming to mind of me walking around my neighborhood just yelling at everyone. Honestly, that’s sort of what I thought I’d have to do in order to reclaim myself and all the years of total sheepishness I’ve been putting out there. Turns out, this isn’t such a big deal. The subtle stuff makes the biggest difference.

So I’m sitting at this retreat, in the middle of a meditation session, and it hits me. I like who I am here. There was no inner conversation about what other people like. I didn’t particularly care what anyone there thought of me. That was not my focus while I was there. I simply realized that the version of me that was showing up in that place was a version of me that was awfully close to my authentic self.

My authentic self. 

Even just a week ago, if you’d wanted to know me and what I’m all about, I would have told you to ask one of a small handful of people who know me quite well. I would have never answered that question for fear of saying something that someone else doesn’t agree with. “You’re not quiet.” “You’re not competitive.” “You’re not rebellious.” Whatever. Everyone has a different experience of everyone. We all show people different sides of ourselves – I just think I’d made such a practice of it that I didn’t know what was real anymore.

Right here, right now, I want to list two qualities about myself that are undeniably true, and that I am DONE apologizing for. 

  • I am highly sensitive
  • I am highly spiritual

Both of these qualities can be good and bad. Both can be turn-ons or turn-offs. My sensitivity often rears itself in the form of feeling other people’s feelings before they’ve even recognized them. It can be a great thing in terms of flowing with a conversation or “reading the room,” but it can be terrible if I’m wrong. It can be just as terrible if I’m right and the other person isn’t ready to admit or address their emotions. My spirituality lets me know that at any given time, I am backed by something HUGE. Something much bigger than myself. It helps me to remain calm in the face of danger and adversity, but it can also come across as minimizing problems – especially when I’m in a position of trying to reassure someone else. 

Why is all of this even important? 

This past weekend was a wake-up call. There are two relationships in my life that I was actively in the process of ruining because I was refusing to be authentic. In one – a relationship that I really can’t leave – I didn’t want to set off an endless string of criticism that I’d never be able to get away from. I thought by being accommodating, I’d avoid the mudslide. In the other – a relationship that is held together by very thin threads – I didn’t want my real self ruining it. I thought by suppressing my controversial thoughts and opinions, the relationship would stay afloat.

Thank goodness for my belief system.

I had to address the tenuous relationship first. I realized that if it was worth keeping, it was also worth losing. I spoke my mind, and from what I can tell so far, the relationship has not survived. It’s very sad to me, but again, I’m backed by something much bigger than myself. A wise woman once told me, “rejection is protection.” Normally, I would have gone back and tried to un-do everything I said – to see if I could set things back to the way they’d been. You know what, though? I don’t want that. I don’t want to have to keep my thoughts to myself. I want to be able to share freely with people I care about. It’s hard, and I’m hurting. Even still, I know I did the right thing, and I know I’m going to be fine.

With the other relationship, I am just trying like hell to show up differently. To let my freak flag fly, as they say. I am saying things right in the moment as they come up. I am calling out shitty behavior as soon as I see it. I’m remaining calm even when the heat rises. I am not responding to irrationality. It’s not going very well and I’m being criticized a lot. It sucks, but again, I know I’m doing the right things here. If this relationship is worth keeping… well, it’s worth losing.

So what’s the takeaway in all this? It just seems like all of my fears have come true. 

The takeaway is that I’m fine. I’m a little saddened by the responses I’m getting. But I’m simultaneously so proud of myself for doing this. I have a sense of calm and serenity that I don’t think I’ve ever felt. 

I always say flowery things like “we are exactly where we need to be at any given moment,” but for the first time, I’m actually believing it. The outcome of both of these relationships is unknown, which I hate, but hey, it’s what I need right now.

 

 

 

Forgive? What’s the Point?

Forgiveness can be a tough one. Pain – physical or emotional – runs deep, and most of us (being human and all) hold onto said pain long past the point of it being helpful. Pain can be a learning experience, but once the lesson is learned, it’s time to let that pain go. It no longer has a purpose. So just do it. Let it go. Move on. It’s so easy.

Ok I can’t even take myself seriously. The truth? I’m terrible at this. Like, disturbingly bad. I stay hurt like it’s an Olympic sport and I’m in medal contention.

I was doing some research for a writing project and ran across this:

“Forgive all who have offended you, not for them, but for yourself.” -Harriet Nelson.

And then I remembered something that a dear friend of mine used to say:

“Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

Karmically, I understand that forgiveness is a state of mind. It’s not a statement of allowance, or even a statement of being okay. It’s just something you’re supposed to do because forgiveness is good. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. God forgives and stuff, so I should too, right?

But I really got it yesterday. Like, got it. I read a story that made me truly understand what forgiveness is all about, and suddenly, my life was jolted into perspective. Follow this link for a story that will blow your mind. Here’s a summary:

Back during World War II, a bunch of soldiers were captured and held in a labor camp in Southeast Asia. Their labor eventually led to the building of the bridge over the Mae Klong River (renamed the Kwai Yai River in 1960) in Thailand. These men were tortured and forced to work inhumane hours in unspeakable conditions. Their captors were mean, threatening, and had zero empathy for the prisoners. To see a dramatized version of the events, check out the 1957 award-winning film, Bridge on the River Kwai.

So the story that I linked to above is about a former British soldier who was a prisoner at this camp. He survived, and remembers the experience in great detail. An old friend of his pointed him towards an article that had recently been written by one of the commanding Japanese officers at the camp – in other words, one of the specific men who tortured our storyteller. The article was about how he had spent his later years in life trying to atone for the damage he had done to the prisoners at the camp and that he had forgiven himself for his part in anyone’s suffering.

First of all, how do you forgive yourself for something like that? Well, you have to. But I digress. Here’s what happened:

The former soldier’s wife found a way to contact the old commander and told him of her husband’s suffering. She asked him how he could possibly feel forgiven, when she personally knew someone who could never forgive him for what he had done. Surprisingly, the commander wrote back and asked to meet with his former prisoner.

They eventually met, and in place of anger and resentment, they saw each other as humans. They saw each other through the lens of compassion. Forgiveness happened naturally, and the former soldier finally knew peace for himself. The two men even shared a few laughs and bonded over some of the ridiculous things that happened in the labor camp.

If a former POW can forgive the captor who tortured him, I can forgive myself for the petty crap I’ve done. I can forgive people for the petty crap they’ve done to me. Not an ounce of it matters.

Back to the point of forgiveness… who is it really for? Saying “I forgive you” to make someone feel better is not enough. Sure, they may feel like they’re off the hook, but they are not the ones who truly reap the benefit. By feeling forgiveness in your heart, the pain just… disappears. It evaporates into thin air, almost as if it were never there in the first place. It’s really weird. There’s someone in my life who I swore for years that I would never forgive. Yet, somehow, I came to see him as a human who made some weird choices. Not a monster.

Today, I laugh hysterically sometimes about the incident between us that I thought I would never forgive. He was so stupid to do what he did! Who does that!? It’s just silly when put into perspective. I feel much better now that I’m not all hurt about it anymore. The hurt didn’t affect him or punish him; it only punished me and made me feel bad.

So basically, we’re all just humans made of stuff. Once you can see someone as a person who simply was making the best decisions they could with the information they had available at the time – forgiveness is all that’s left.

Now the real test will be learning to apply that forgiveness thing to myself……

 

 

 

An Open Letter to the World From an INFP

Dear World,

For those of you who are familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), I am an INFP, and an obvious one at that. For those of you who are not familiar with the MBTI, look it up. Do a quick assessment. It won’t define you or change your life or anything, but it may give you some insight into how you perceive the world and how you interact with others.

I’ve known my type for a long time, and I’ve rarely given it much thought until recently. Let’s break it down:

I = Introverted. N = iNtuitive. F = Feeling. P = Perceiving.

The N, F, and P parts of me cause me to use intuition and emotion before logic, and while I can sometimes read people very accurately, most things get filtered through my lens of overly high standards and self-criticism. As a result, I will often think you are disappointed in me when you are not. When I get angry or scared, I will say a lot of things that don’t make sense to most people because I am 100% feeling and 0% fact in those moments. I will try to verbalize visceral sensations instead of making coherent statements, and it will be positively maddening to you. Given enough time for the situation to cool down, I will easily be able to go back and communicate more clearly.

I never want you to feel anything negative, so I will always apologize, even if it wasn’t my fault. In most cases, I’ll take in all the bad feelings so you don’t have to. It’s not a martyrdom thing; I just can’t stand to watch others writhe in discomfort or pain. I feel extreme feelings all the time, so it doesn’t bother me nearly as much. I can handle your stuff just fine. What I can’t handle is watching you try to handle your stuff. Yuck.

I want the world to be a better place, and I desperately want human suffering to end. It is so important to me, that I will go to great lengths to try to discover how I can truly be effective to that end. That’s why I became a counselor. It’s also why I had to stop being a counselor. Some people accuse me of being selfish in this quest–as if I want others to feel better so I can take credit for “fixing” them or “helping.” Truly not so. I just literally cannot stand to watch others suffer. It’s bad enough to see someone with hurt feelings. Seeing someone in the pain of illness or addiction or abuse or poverty–well, it’s almost too much for me to bear sometimes.

Now about that introverted thing:

Introverts have gotten a lot of press recently, and not in a good way. Several columnists have written things like, “introversion is another word for arrogance and self-absorption.” Introverts have fired back with “Introvert Pride” pieces. 

I don’t have a dog in that particular fight, but I am truly introverted, and it truly is a pain in the ass to deal with an extraverted world sometimes. Being introverted is as integral to me as having brown hair, and quite frankly, it causes me a lot of grief. I think there is a wonderful place in the world for an INFP like me, but it’s not a source of pride. It’s something I feel like I’m constantly working on and compensating for.

Here are some examples:

Social events give me extreme anxiety, but I find my own ways of making it through them. Sometimes I’ll stand by the wall or in the corner, not because I’m trying to be aloof, but rather because it brings me a sense of peace to be able to see the entire room.

I’m sometimes told that I’m “quiet,” but really I’m just overly thoughtful about the words that come out of my mouth. I have had a tendency to say things in poor timing, or to allow incomplete thoughts to slip out, which has made me look awkward and stupid. I know all too well the feeling of an entire group staring at me because i just said something “weird.” Being dismissed as the “weird” girl is frustrating, especially when I look back later and realize how I could have communicated my thoughts differently. In the presence of people I don’t know very well, I usually just opt to not speak at all. It’s easier for me.

I read a LOT. I love getting lost in stories, and my active imagination makes reading an awesome activity. On one hand, being well-read is an asset. On the other hand, I have far more information in my head than is necessary for a basic small talk interaction. I will spew factoids and references as an attempt to connect or add to the conversation, but it is often received as show-off-ey and arrogant. I’m not trying to prove my intelligence when I do that, I promise. I just want to be included.

Sometimes I get really excited and overtly happy, but that’s not the kind of thing I allow strangers to see. I hold my emotions close because they are intense, and they are mine. I worry that if I give too much away, I’ll be taken advantage of. I’m aware that this causes me to come across as cold, distant, and sort of uncaring, but it’s just a layer of protection. I care a lot. Too much, if anything.

If you are concerned that I’m not having fun, ask me once, and I’ll tell you. If I say yes, just believe me. “Fun” for me might look different than it does to you. I love observing people and getting lost in my own mind. For me, that IS fun. If the “fun” gets any closer to me, I am likely to become overwhelmed and drained by it. I keep my distance so that I don’t have to leave the party after only being there for five minutes (although I’ve certainly done that plenty of times as well).

Finally, if I ask to be left alone, I really mean it. That means I have hit my breaking point, and I no longer have any energy to give. I need to recharge my batteries and quick. It’s not a personal diss (I can love the crap out of you and still want you to go away for a while), and it’s not some passive-aggressive attempt to get attention (when I leave a room, I am not secretly hoping you’ll chase after me). I have done weird things like hide in closets in my own home, all in the pursuit of some peace and quiet. It sounds crazy to me even as I say it now, but I cannot stress the urgency of an introvert who has gone into the red, energy-wise. 

I write this open letter mainly to remind myself that it’s not all terrible. I recently read some horribly mean things that someone said about me, and it hurt me in a way that was surprising, even to me. The statements were so close to the truth and yet so incredibly inaccurate. As in, “ok, I can see why you would think that, but if you had ever listened to me EVER, you would know how far from true that is.” I expect to be misunderstood by strangers. I do not expect friends to so blatantly lose sight of my intentions.

If there’s anyone out there who is like me, you probably have had similar experiences. I encourage you to do some research on the MBTI and other scientific studies involving personality differences, particularly introversion. It has its advantages, but it can also lead to misperceptions and miscommunications that are frustrating beyond belief. Take pride in who you are because there is no one else who is exactly the same as you, and the world would be the most boring of places if anyone were.

Share your stories with me. Then leave me alone 😉

Ava.

 

Break Free

We have decided to get rid of all of our stuff. I mean, pretty much all of it. We’re not moving across the world or anything, so we’re keeping our furniture (at least for now), but we are getting rid of almost everything else. I am completely freaking out.

I am not a hoarder by any means. I have plenty of room to walk around my house, and clutter drives me batty. Still, I know that I’ve held on to too many things over the years, and it’s time to lighten the load. I keep reading about the benefits of doing this type of purge, and if I’m being honest, I want the life those people have. I don’t really want to do the work, but I want the results. 

So what brought all this up?

I have moved 16 times in as many years. Some of those moves were relatively easy, others were chaotic and draining. This last one, while physically easy, has taken such a toll on me emotionally, I’m actually a little taken aback. I’ve barely unpacked. Everything is safely stowed in a room I have affectionately labeled the “wtf room,” and I’ve only gone in there twice since the move. Just for some perspective: It’s almost February. I moved in November.

Another wake-up call: there are some big problems with this house. They are all probably easy fixes, but they need to be managed by the landlord, as they’re a little above the DIY level. Normally, I’d just call him and tell him I need some help. In my current situation, however, I’m too embarrassed to let him in the house right now. I don’t want him to see that I haven’t really moved in. It’s a really stupid roadblock, but a roadblock nonetheless. It is very obvious to me that this is an insane way to operate.

So, what’s the problem? Get ready for a whole slew of BS excuses:

1. A lot of the things I have were gifts. My parents are the types of people who show love by buying stuff, and I’ve never been able to break them of the habit. I tell them year after year that I don’t want anything for my birthday or for Christmas, but they get so hurt and offended by the suggestion. Gift-giving is the only way they know how to deliver emotion, yet it sort of kills me. I appreciate everything I receive, but there are also some things that I just don’t end up using. Or using enough. Or using quickly enough. Or whatever. It makes me feel guilty.

2. As I look around my house, of course there are things I don’t use or don’t wear very often. As I have already said, some of these things were gifts, but others I bought myself. I am SO careful with my money, especially after getting so deep in debt, that if I find myself with an item I haven’t used or worn very often, I feel like I’ve failed. It’s like… I failed to love it enough, so I have to get rid of it now. It makes me feel guilty.

3. I am emotionally attached to an unusual amount of things. I realize that is like the hoarder’s motto, and I just said I’m not in that category, so maybe I’m worse off than I thought. I have purged quite a few things from the past, but there are certainly some stragglers. I know I’ll never get rid of my photo albums or my CD collection, but I would probably survive without my college notebooks. I would for sure survive without the hundreds of Beanie Babies that are languishing in a box in the wtf room. Here’s the thing, though: I miss a lot of pieces of my past. I used to be such a high-energy, fun-loving person. Over the years, as I’ve dealt with illness and a series of painful losses and transitions, I’ve lost some (a lot) of that spark. I like seeing reminders of it and feeling those old feelings again. The thought of losing those connections to the past makes me feel scared.

4. I keep thinking I’m going to use things again. I think about the large number of stuffed animals I have, and my first thought is that I will give them to the kids I eventually have. Why haven’t I had kids yet? Well, I’m waiting until I’m not crazy sick. Reality check time: I’m 32 and I’m in for at least another year of treatment. I can’t get pregnant while I’m on these particular meds. By the time I’m done, I’ll be 33. I realize women are able to have children well into their 30s and even into their 40s, but I know my fertility is waning. I’m seeing signs of it every day. I’m not ready to entirely let go of the idea of having kids, but I know it’s less of a possibility than it used to be. The thought of shutting the door on that idea forever mades me feel sad.

So that’s where I’m at today. I realize that every single one of those hesitations is based on a feeling, and feelings are not reality. I need to push through the yucky stuff and just do it. All it’s really going to take is a commitment to not waiting a day longer and to just start separating stuff and getting it out the door. I don’t even want money for most of it. I just need to be able to look at my life and be able to breathe. 

I’m overwhelmed, and it’s not my favorite. Here are some links for inspiration:

You Are Not Your Khakis

Get Rid of Stuff–No Garage Sale Required!

I Got Rid of 90% of My Stuff and I Feel Fine

7 Tips to Get With the New Minimalist Mentality

 

LungLeavin’ Day!

Hello everyone. I love being able to promote good causes, so when this came across my desk, I couldn’t pass it up. Read this letter from Cameron, and go visit the site he has set up. He and his family have put up a hell of a fight, and they are excited to celebrate their eighth year of victory against mesothelioma. 

Read, click, visit, and participate!

My name is Cameron Von St. James and I was wondering if you’d be willing to help me with a cause that means a lot to me!

Eight years ago, my wife Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma; a rare cancer that kills most people within 2 years of diagnosis.  She had just given birth to our daughter Lily, and was only given 15 months to live.  After a life saving surgery that included the removal of her left lung, LungLeavin’ Day was born.  This will be the 8th year that we celebrate!

The purpose of LungLeavin’ Day is to encourage others to face their fears!  Each year, we gather around a fire in our backyard with our friends and family, write our biggest fears on a plate and smash them into the fire.  We celebrate for those who are no longer with us, for those who continue to fight, for those who are currently going through a tough time in their life, and most importantly, we celebrate life! 

This year, we are asking bloggers to participate and spread the word about LungLeavin’ Day.  We created an interactive page mesothelioma.com/heather/lungleavinday that tells the full story of our special day.  We hope you will check it out and share it on your blog.  It would mean so much to Heather and I.  Let me know what you think.

Thank you so much,

Cameron Von St. James
http://www.mesothelioma.com/blog/authors/cameron/

 

The Rearview Mirror

When driving, you should check your rearview mirror once in a while just to be fully aware of your surroundings. After all, no one wants to be caught off-guard by a snarky tailgater while you’re trying to change lanes, or worse, by a titanoboa, which, according to scientists, could totally come back someday if global warming continues on its current course.

That sound you hear? Yeah, that’s me barfing in fear.

So what about looking in the rearview mirror of life? Some say it’s good to look to the past to avoid making the same mistakes over and over. Others say it’s nice to look back so that you can see how far you’ve come.

I call bulls*** on all of it.

For me (and others like me–I know you’re out there), that little *glance* I take into my mirror while driving tends to turn into a long…. cold…. endless…. stare when I’m looking into my past. I was blessed with a super-human memory, which certainly has its merits, but its downside is that I remember everything. I remember that time you rolled your eyes at me in 9th grade when you had to hear for the 30th time about how Danny talked to me for almost 30 minutes after school that one day. I remember that time I told you I had a bunch of siblings I’d never met and you obviously didn’t believe me but pretended you did. I remember that time you made a bet with all of our friends that I would ruin this one really important thing (and then I did). I still think I’m that annoying girl who can’t shut up about boys, who tells strange made-up stories for seemingly no reason, and who is bound to screw up important things.

I used to tell myself that my frequent journeys into the past were helpful. I used to quite convincingly make the case that I was learning from mistakes and becoming a better person. Turns out that was… yep, total bulls***.

At the risk of TMI: I’ve done the 4th step. I’ve taken inventory, and it’s ugly. I do not regret the work I have done to clean up my nuclear disaster of bad decisions, but ironically, it was while I was staring my mistakes in the face that I made the biggest ones of my life. It was like I looked into the rearview mirror and freaked out when I saw a copperhead, so I closed my eyes and ran right into the mouth of a titanoboa.

Oh look, there he is again, in case you forgot. Baaaaaaaarf.

So what’s going on? Why the obsession with what’s done and gone and why did it fail for so long to help me with the issues at hand today?

I don’t necessarily know the answer, but I have some pretty good theories.

The main one is that I’m still hurt. I’m hurt because I remember every single little thing. Deep down inside, I’m concerned that you remember me only as that annoying girl who couldn’t shut up about boys. Or that annoying girl who would black out from drinking and then say some really scary things (and of course not remember the next day). Or that annoying girl who would tell the most bizarre lies just to seem a little more interesting. Or that annoying girl who was too darn boring to be worth being friends with anyway.

The truth is that you probably don’t remember me much at all. I’m the one who remembers.

But anyway, when you make decisions from a place of being hurt (or angry or resentful or sad or whatever), it’s extremely difficult to be logical or rational. By holding onto my pain, I’ve subconsciously been revengeful. I’ve avenged my own suffering on people who totally had nothing to do with it in the first place and most certainly didn’t deserve it. Instead of being able to tell someone in the moment, “hey, that hurt me,” I shoved it down inside and tried to figure out how to stop the bleeding. I’m not justifying my actions or anything, but I do at least think that’s why I did some of the things I did (as opposed to me just being a terrible person).

All of this is coming up because a big reunion just passed me by. I honestly couldn’t go anyway because it would have been a long trip and I had neither the funding nor the time to go. But would I have gone if I could have? Absolutely not. I know that all of my friends from that time period are still close (without me) and I don’t know how it happened. They all live all over the country, so it’s not the distance. We all had full time jobs and/or got married and/or had kids, so it’s not life’s distractions.

I either did something to upset them, or they just forgot me. And I’m not sure which is worse.

So I obsess about the past and wonder what went wrong. I replay every conversation that I can remember so that maybe I can uncover the moment where everything turned. I keep thinking that if I could just figure it out, I could reassure myself that I’m different now. Maybe part of me thinks I can convince them I’m different now. Is that even what I want?

These types of crazy-making thoughts are why Facebook is just bad for me. I know Facebook-Induced Death Spiral is not yet in the DSM, but it will be one of these days, trust me.

The other reason I’m being haunted by ghosts:

I’m going to be visiting my hometown in a few weeks for the first time in quite a few years. It’s interesting because the people I really want to see are not necessarily the people I would have thought I would want to see. I’m not really thinking about any of it too much because all of the people I got in touch with were genuinely happy to hear from me. There’s quite a bit of comfort in knowing that I left some bridges unburned.

I’m hoping that one day, I’ll find peace in all of it. I’m hoping that if someone hurts my feelings in the future, I’ll be able to just say to their face, “wow, that hurt my feelings, can we talk about this real quick?” I’m hoping that my glances into the review mirror really do become glances.

And I’m seriously hoping that giant-ass snake does not come back in my lifetime.

Why I Don’t Do the Facebook Thing Anymore

Recently, I’ve come across about a zillion blog posts/articles written by people who are either analyzing their current presence on Facebook (thanks, Rob), contemplating the decision to delete their Facebook page (thanks, GMD), broadcasting the recent studies that show that Facebook contributes to depression and feelings of loneliness (here’s a smattering of links, all from the same site, even), or explaining why they never jumped on the Facebook bandwagon in the first place (thanks, Cal).

Given that Facebook has been around for almost a decade now, I’m wondering why all the sudden attention is being devoted to it. I mean, MySpace just sorta died without fanfare (present attempt at resurrection non-withstanding)… and does anyone here even remember Friendster? Did I just date myself?

Facebook invaded our lives with infectious frenzy. What started as a slow trickle of college kids and recent graduates joining the ranks went viral very quickly once the -.edu requirement was omitted. All of a sudden everyone and their mother (and grandmother–oh geeze) jumped in the pot. It became so ubiquitous, that people started saying things like “it’s not real until it’s posted on Facebook.” That applied to everything from photos, party invitations, quirky one-liners (that we would surely forget if we had to actually wait for the right time to use them), and even relationships. I actually sort of wonder how many relationships have met their demise due to of one of the involved parties not making the relationship “Facebook official” in the right timing.

And I get it. I’m not a Facebook hater and I don’t look down on people who use it. I think it has a lot of good qualities. I like the ability to keep in touch with people you may otherwise not be able to. I love the fact that it makes remembering birthdays a cinch. I sometimes don’t even mind the weird corporate-ness of it all–there are some events and sales that I have found out about through glancing at someone else’s Facebook that I would not have heard about otherwise.

Here’s the thing for me personally. It was just making me tired. I am an introvert in the truest sense of the word, and I just couldn’t keep up with everyone and everything. My Twitter feed I can handle. I can glance at that very quickly, find stuff I’m interested in, and simply ignore the rest. Facebook was not so easy to be superficially involved in. I felt like I had to be all-in or give it up all together.

I deactivated my account for a year or so just to get some much-needed social rest and ended up going back to it. I wanted to see what was going on with long-lost friends, and I thought it would be cool to get back in touch. What I found was really more than I could handle. For one thing, it seemed some etiquette/protocol had changed in my year-ish of absence (I’m looking at you, Facebook stalkers), and it also became abundantly clear that the online world kept spinning even when I’d jumped off, and I could not run fast enough to catch it again.

For instance:

  • I met a guy in a random place and we exchanged numbers. On our first date about a week later, he basically recited my entire Facebook profile to me. I know that people look each other up–that is sort of understandable–but I felt very on display.
  • My sister-in-law wrote me a scathing private message about how my disconnection from Facebook was like a slap in the face to the family (despite the fact that we still texted and talked on the phone sometimes).
  • My circle of friends from college are all still BFFs and had all recently been in a wedding for one of our mutual friends that I wasn’t even invited to. We had stayed in touch through Facebook, but when I left, I sort of ceased to exist. Out of sight, out of mind.
  • My mother joined, and all of a sudden, every single one of my photos had some sort of “what exactly are you doing there?” comment on it, and every status update was followed by “what exactly does that mean?” The constant need to explain myself wore me out.

None of these things are that bad… they were just too tiring for me to deal with. I’m not a big fan of conflict, and I’m not the type of person to get in people’s faces and demand attention. Not that everyone on Facebook is fighting and demanding attention, but that’s just what it seemed like it was going to take in order for me to stay relevant among my “friends.”

So I quit. Quit it for real. Sometime in 2012, I not only deactivated my account, but I petitioned to have it deleted. And it was. I thought I would miss it, but the wave of relief that came over me instead was.. unexpected. I had no idea how much it had been weighing me down. I keep in touch with my real friends and with the family members who are willing to have email/phone relationships with me. Their numbers are small and manageable to my tiny reserve of social energy.

I’m not pissing people off anymore, and I’m not emotionally drained by events that didn’t even “happen.” I don’t think I ever had so-called “Facebook Depression,” but I can definitely say that I’m happier without it.

And that is why I don’t do the Facebook thing anymore.